Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Revisiting Ring of Bright Water

When I wrote about 'Peking Picnic' a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the postal book group I'm in. Well my book was 'Ring of Bright Water' Simon was the last person to read it, and both book and accompanying notebook landed in my mailbox just before I went on holiday. 'Ring of Bright Water' has a special place in my heart, it's a book I've read many times over the years but it was really as a homesick teenager that it got under my skin. I already had a bit of an Otter obsession after close encounters with them in Shetland, 'Ring' was published in 1960 so in the late 80's it read as nostalgic but still quite recognisable. Re- reading it last year with another 25 odd years on the clock Maxwell's way of life and the world he led it in seems much further away - at least all of it's 60 odd years...

I will admit that I was nervous opening the notebook to see what everyone thought of this book - I'm aware it's not perfect, and knew when I sent it off that it was something I'd spent years fruitlessly trying to get the group to embrace - so as a group choice it was a bit of a gamble, and I would have hated it if nobody had liked it. Happily pretty much everybody did like it (huge relief) which is a great testament to Maxwell's writing.

Maxwell at his best really is a terrific writer, I have most of his books but am only really familiar with the Otter series - of which 'Ring' is by far the most appealing, his childhood memoir ('The House of Elrig' - worth searching out), and 'Harpoon at a Venture' which I consider to be his best book and desperately in need of being reprinted. His charisma jumps off the page in 'Ring' in a way that's made this book a lifelong friend, I suspect the man himself would have been considerably more difficult to get along with which is one reason I've never read his biography. A few of my book group friends had though and it was recommended a couple of times in the notebook. I know enough about Maxwell to know that 'Ring of Bright Water' is the varnished truth. There are omissions and occasional romancing - all of which makes for a better book - but perhaps it's time to read a little bit more about the man behind the book...

It's an irony that the success of 'Ring of Bright Water' contributed to the end of Maxwell's highland idyll, although my impression of Maxwell is that he'd always find a way to make a mess out of his life. Maybe that's part of the appeal of this book. The otter bit is emotional and funny - until it becomes tragic, the bits about the west highlands are classic British nature writing at it's best, but what I notice now is the window onto my grandfathers generation. Men who had grown up between wars, fought in the second one, and had to try and make sense of that post war world. Maxwell was ridiculously well connected with the privileges and introductions that went along with that, his life was fascinating and full of incident, but there is so much failure - he was part of a generation of gentlemen adventurers who seem long gone now.  

10 comments:

  1. You've done a good job of selling me this one. On the one hand, I'm not a huge fan of books about animals as I always fear the heartbreak that seems inevitable in that genre; one the other, Maxwell does seem fascinatingly messed up; and on my third hand (?!), I love otters. Hmmm.

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    1. Read it! (Blame me later if it makes you cry).

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  2. Thank you again Hayley! Brilliant and tempting review. I've dug up a copy and have started it. It would be fascinating to compare it to the film which was a very memorable part of my childhood (though now of course only the shocking tragedy sticks). When I was growing up (long long ago now obv!) this was very much a recommended YA read along with Joyce Stranger (Breed of Giants is one I recently enjoyed again), Born Free, Forever Free and Living Free and Gerald Durrell on the nature side and Hammond Innes/Alistair Maclean/Desmond Bagley Men Adventuring type. I haven't read the Joy Adamson for years, but remember finding her and the stories stirring stuff. Wonder how the Men Adventuring ones would read now too.

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    1. You've put me in the mood for some adventuring men now Donna

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  3. I remember wanting to see Ring of Bright Water because the actors from "Born Free" and "Living Free" were in it.

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    1. Film and book are quite different, both are good but I think the film is more Born free than the book and it's turned into a love story which the book most certainly doesn't have. Great scenery and otter footage though.

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  4. Hello, I've been curious about this book and it sounds excellent, but like the others who've commented, the tragic end has put me off. Sadly, so many books with animals end tragically. The bits you mentioned of the nature writing about the Highlands does sound good.

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    1. The tragic bit is in the middle if that helps. He's a brilliant writer and I whole heartedly recommend him.

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  5. I loved ROBW. I listened to it on audio some years ago & thought it was wonderful. I would love to read the other books in the trilogy one of these days.

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    1. The tone is a bit grimmer in the later books but they're still worth a look. I haven't read them for years now so perhaps should give them another go.

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